Addiction is a chronic condition and relapse is common. It’s hard to know exactly how common, but the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that about 40 to 60 percent of people who get treatment for a substance use disorder relapse within a year. Although relapse is common, it should be avoided if at all possible. Not only is it terribly discouraging, but it also leaves you more vulnerable to overdose, since you no longer have any tolerance. The good news is that if you do relapse, it doesn’t have to be the end of recovery. The following steps can help you get back on track.
Know That Relapse Is Not a Permanent Failure
The first step after a relapse is to sort out your thinking. One common reaction is to think something like, “Well, I’ve already ruined my recovery so I might as well go all out.” It’s normal to feel disappointed and discouraged after a relapse, but this all-or-nothing thinking doesn’t help matters. Yes, it would have been better not to relapse, and starting again will be hard. However, instead of thinking of relapse as a permanent failure, think of starting again as the second-best option. The best thing would have been to stay sober but since that opportunity is gone, focus on the second-best option. Many people relapse several times before ultimately staying sober long-term. The sooner you decide to move on from this setback, the easier it will be.
Reach out to Someone You Trust
Once you’ve decided to stop digging a new hole, reach out to someone you trust. Good options are your 12-Step sponsor, your therapist, your group, or a supportive friend or family member. Tell them what happened and that you want to get sober again. There are several reasons for this. For instance, it moves things along if someone can help you make a plan and follow through. Another reason is that it creates a higher level of accountability. Once you tell someone that you relapsed and that you want to get sober again, you feel a greater sense of obligation to follow through. Third, being open and honest makes a clear break from addictive behavior, which is typically evasive and deceptive. Coming clean about a mistake is a clear sign you want to make a real change.
Figure out the Best Way to Get Sober Again
Once you’ve reached out, the next step is to figure out the best way to get sober again. If you had more of a minor slip, like just drinking or using once or even a few times, you’ll probably be fine getting sober again without a medical detox. However, if the relapse was more extensive, you may need to consider whether to go through medical detox. Your doctor or addiction counselor can help you make that determination.
Analyze What Went Wrong
After you’ve addressed the emergency of drinking or using and you’ve gotten sober again, it’s time for some serious reflection. You want to understand exactly what led up to your relapse. Start by writing out a sort of narrative that includes where you were when you actually relapsed, who you were with, how you felt, what you were thinking about, and so on. Then, think about things more broadly. What was going on in your life at the time? Were you feeling depressed or anxious? Were you feeling unusually good?
When people relapse, it’s often days or weeks after they make a definite decision to relapse and they are just waiting for the opportunity. Do you remember when you made that decision? Was it around the same time the possibility first occurred to you or was it sometime later? Had you been sticking to your recovery plan? These are all important questions to ask if you want to better understand what happened. Also, don’t rely solely on your own memory. Get input from your therapist, your friends and family, and from your sober network.
Think About What You Still Have Going for You
One of the biggest challenges in getting over a relapse is the feeling that you have to start over again from scratch. In some ways, you do have to start over. You might have to detox again and you have to start again at one day sober. This matters because sobriety tends to get easier the longer you’re in recovery. You may feel like you’ve wasted a lot of time, money, effort, and will power.
However, in some important ways, you don’t have to start over. You know that you can make it through detox and stay sober for a while. You are familiar with some kind of recovery process, whether it’s participation in a professional treatment program, talking to a therapist, or going to 12-Step meetings. You may have identified and made some progress toward treating any co-occurring mental health issues. You may have something resembling a sober network already in place.
Write down an actual list of all the advantages you have this time that you didn’t have last time. Take it one step further and write down all the advantages you have in general. When you see all the things you have going for you, the prospect of “starting over” won’t seem quite as overwhelming.
Make a New Plan and Try Again
Finally, once you’ve gotten sober, analyzed your mistakes, and taken stock of your current assets, make a new recovery plan that incorporates what you’ve learned. This will be different for everyone. For example, you might realize that after a few months, you started cutting a lot of corners on your recovery plan by skipping meetings, not exercising, and so on. Your new plan will have to focus on keeping you more engaged and less complacent, possibly by increasing your social support. Another common problem is that people have a rough time transitioning from an inpatient treatment program back to their normal lives. Your revised plan might include repeating treatment but this time with a more gradual transition, such as stepping down to an outpatient program or sober living environment before heading home. Whatever the stumbling blocks were last time, and there may be several, create a plan for exactly what you will do if you encounter them again.
Relapse is unfortunately very common in addiction recovery, but it doesn’t have to be a disaster. Plenty of people relapse and go on to have a strong recovery. You don’t fail until you quit trying. At The Foundry, we know that recovery from addiction is never a straight line. We use a variety of proven methods to give our clients the tools they need to stay sober long term. For more information about our treatment options, call us at 1 (844) 955-1066 or explore our website.